The one-room schoolhouse seems a charming and antiquated thing of the past. Unless, that is, you live in Wallowa County. Of the few remaining one-room schools in Oregon, two are right here at home. One of them is in Imnaha. The other is in Troy.
The Troy School, a relatively modern-looking structure built about 50 years ago, today enrolls students in grades K-8. High School students attend classes in Enterprise or are home-schooled. Troy School’s space is ample for small classes, which is good.
Today, Fred Byers, the current teacher at Troy School, has only three students — two boys and a girl, two of whom are sixth-graders and the other a seventh-grader. Byers even has the occasional help of a second teacher. His wife, Pam, teaches music, and more specifically, piano, as part of the curricula. And Byers is certified to teach through High School, should there be a student who wants or needs to continue grades 9-12 in Troy. Such a move would, Byers said, require working out some technicalities with the state.
Clark Upton, who taught at Troy from 1999 to 2002, had nine students in 2000, the year they buried the time capsule.
Jane Curry, now of Flora, had 13 students in her classroom when she taught from 1976 to 1978. “It was a different experience, but it didn’t throw me because when I was in college, they were teaching that you could teach as an open classroom,” she said, explaining that concept as “individualized more like home schooling.”
Just as in the one-room schools that dotted Wallowa County and the rural West in the early 20th century, there’s also the opportunity for the older students to help the younger ones. All three teachers related such examples.
“If a younger student couldn’t get help on a problem or a subject because the teacher was busy with someone else, they could go to an older student who would say, ‘Well, let’s see what the book says,’ ” Curry recalled. “They become quite hands-on.”
Byers remembered a case where a first-grade girl was watching him teach a junior-high-age student algebra and later, when she was learning it, she said, “I remember that.”
The downsides of such a small school can be fairly obvious.
“When I first started teaching there, I had a budget of only $300 for books for seven grades,” Curry said. “That was not much at all.” There was also no copier and no fax, although that has changed.
Teaching in a one-room school requires a lot of organization, even if you only have a handful of students. “You’ve got to be on top of everything,” Curry said. “You’ve got to get yourself programmed to make sure you’re organized. If you’re not organized, it’s not going to get done.”
In the relatively isolated environment of Troy, there also are fewer opportunities for socialization for the students with their peers.
“They learn to talk to adults better,” Byers said. “But they do cherish the chance to be with other kids.”
While there is a playground that includes a baseball field and basketball courts, extracurricular sports are nonexistent.
“Team sports are just unheard of,” Byers said.
The rural nature of living in Troy does provide some special additions to the school’s curriculum.
Byers teaches archery. Curry said her students learned about the many kinds of fish in the nearby Grande Ronde River and even witnessed the crashing of spring breakup ice coming down the Wenaha River into the Grande Ronde.
Upton said the all-encompassing nature of what he taught was a major element he found important.
“It’s not just a teaching job but teaching kids how to get along in life,” he said.